Paternity means Fatherhood. For an unmarried couple having a child, the father has no legal rights until paternity is established. For a married couple having a child, paternity is conclusively presumed.
Establishing paternity is the process of determining the legal father of a child. Paternity is automatically established in most cases when parents are married. Family Code, §7540, states that except as provided in Section 7541, the child of a wife cohabiting with her husband, who is not impotent or sterile, is conclusively presumed to be a child of the marriage. A conclusive presumption means that the presumption that the child is a child of the married parents cannot be disproved.
This is true even if there is evidence to disprove that husband is the biological father. There are limited exceptions to this rule as the public policy of the State of California is to preserve the family unit and make sure children are provided for. The conclusive presumption can only be challenged if it is raised within two years of the child’s birth. After two years have passed, no one may challenge paternity and the child remains a child of the marriage.
Unmarried parents need to establish paternity as it is not automatic. There are two ways to establish paternity: (1) to sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity or, (2) to have a court order. The easiest way to go about establishing paternity is by signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity stating that the mother is the mother of the child and the father is the father of the child. This is commonly done at the hospital after the child is born, but can also be signed after parents leave the hospital.
If a man disputes that he is the father of the child, he has a right to request genetic testing and the court will order that the parties cooperate with the genetic testing to prove or disprove paternity. Establishing paternity is important and should be done as soon as possible. Establishing paternity is required before the court can make any orders for custody, visitation or child support.